If you love exotic-looking orchids, a Lady Slipper will fit right into your home or garden. The plant gets its name from its large flowers that hang off the stem, which resembles a slipper. If you already own one of these beautiful plants, you might wonder if it’s possible to grow more of them using seeds.
To grow Lady Slipper orchids from seeds, you have to expose the seeds to stratification so that you break their dormancy and encourage them to germinate. The seeds also benefit from being grown in the same soil that was used to grow your original Lady Slipper plant, as it’s rich in nutrients.
In this article, I’ll explore everything you need to know about how to grow Lady Slippers from seeds and ensure that they survive. I’ll look at why it’s challenging to grow this orchid variety through this approach and feature some helpful tips on alternatives to growing orchids from seeds, such as using division and cuttings.
Why Lady Slippers Are Difficult To Grow From Seeds
Just like other orchid varieties, Lady Slippers require a Rhizoctonia fungus in the soil in order to germinate. Their seeds need fungi to break them open and attach to them.
This fungus passes food and nutrients to the embryo inside the seed so that it can germinate and grow into a plant. Once the plant reaches a stage where it can make its own food, the fungus feeds on nutrients contained inside the orchid’s roots. Therefore the fungus and plant enter into a symbiotic relationship without which the plant can’t survive.
This fungus is found in pine or oak woodlands, as the New York Times reports. This is why, even if you manage to produce thousands of these tiny seeds, they probably won’t be able to germinate successfully because they don’t have access to the fungus’s benefits.
In the wild, Lady Slipper plants are known as terrestrial plants, which isn’t the case for many orchid varieties, which are epiphytic and, therefore, can grow without soil. Epiphytic orchids retrieve nutrients from their environment by clinging to foliage or trees. Terrestrial orchids, on the other hand, need soil to live and thrive.
Growing Lady Slippers from seeds is a long, difficult process. It can sometimes take 15 years for the plants to bloom after the seeds have properly germinated, as the North Dakota State University reports. It’s good to bear this in mind before you go ahead.
How To Grow Lady Slippers From Seeds
Even though it’s a difficult process, you might still want to grow Lady Slippers from seeds. If so, here’s how to do it in order to increase your chance of planting success.
1. Collect the Seed Pods
After the Lady Slipper flowers have faded, collect their seed pods. You should harvest the seeds during summer after the pod has reached its full size and has dried out.
Open the pods carefully so that they crack open, and then use tweezers so that you can remove the seeds because they’re small, and you don’t want to damage them.
One of the main causes of seed dormancy is a compound called abscisic acid (ABA). This prevents germination. However, you can decrease the ABA levels of your Lady Slipper seeds by chilling them before planting.
2. Cold Stratify the Seeds
Lady Slippers have seeds that need to be cold-stratified, which is a method to bring them out of dormancy. In nature, this process happens naturally when seeds are exposed to freezing temperatures in winter. Then, when spring arrives, the temperature becomes warmer so the ground thaws, and this breaks the seed out of dormancy.
The seed is able to release its hard coat, and this starts the process of germination, as MasterClass reports.
To cold stratify the seeds yourself, here’s what to do so you can jumpstart your Lady Slipper seeds’ germination.
- Soak the Lady Slipper seeds in water for an hour or two to soften them.
- Drain the water with a coffee filter.
- Put your seeds on a slightly damp paper towel.
- Wrap the damp paper towel with a dry paper towel. This will ensure the seeds are kept moist without becoming too wet, as this can cause them to become moldy.
- Put the paper towels in a sealable plastic bag or airtight plastic container.
- Keep the seeds in your fridge for a month before you plant them.
- Check them every few days. If you can see that the seeds have started sprouting, you should take them out of the fridge.
- Bring the seeds to room temperature before planting them.
3. Use Lady Slipper Soil
Since Lady Slipper orchids are terrestrial and therefore need soil in order to grow, you might think you can use regular soil, but this is not ideal. Instead, you should plant the seeds in soil that’s already being used to grow your Lady Slipper plant, as fresh soil won’t contain the nutrients it needs.
Remove a bit of soil from an established Lady Slipper plant with your hands or a small shovel. When doing this, you need to ensure you’re careful as you don’t want to damage the plant’s roots that are located near the surface of the soil.
- Take two handfuls of this soil and put it in a plastic sealable bag.
- Mix the seeds into the soil.
- Sprinkle this mixture in a shady area of the garden where you wish to plant the seeds.
4. Add Organic Matter to the Lady Slipper Soil
Ensure that the soil is rich with lots of organic matter to nourish the seeds and plants. You can achieve this by mixing compost into the soil before you plant your Lady Slippers or by adding a layer of dried organic matter, such as pine needles and dried oak leaves. Decomposing leaves helps the seeds germinate better.
5. Don’t Overwater the Soil
To ensure your orchids will be as healthy as possible, keep their soil moist. This will encourage the seeds to continue to grow. However, you should let the soil become hydrated naturally, so let rainfall take care of your Lady Slipper’s seeds.
Once you’ve followed the above tips, be patient. Lady Slippers seeds can take up to 18 months to sprout leaves after you’ve planted them in the soil. If you’re lucky, the plant can take up to about five years to reach maturity and bloom.
Alternatives To Growing Lady Slippers From Seeds
Since growing Lady Slippers from seeds is a difficult process, you might want to consider some alternatives. You can divide your Lady Slipper plant or choose to propagate it from cuttings. Let’s explore both of these methods.
How To Propagate Lady Slippers Through Division
For this method, you’ll have to dig up the Lady Slippers’ root system, so you should be careful as you don’t want to damage the plant’s roots and put the plant’s health and growth in jeopardy.
Your Lady Slipper orchid can only be divided successfully if it has a minimum of two mature growths for each division, as the Chicago Tribune reports.
Once you’ve ensured that, you can follow these steps:
- Dig up the Lady Slipper’s root by gently digging a circle around your plant.
- When you can feel that your plant is becoming loose, carefully lift it out of the ground.
- Ask a friend to hold the plant while you divide the root system into equal parts with a pair of garden snips. While you can use garden shears, you can also use root scissors.
- Check that both divisions contain healthy leaves and roots, or the new plants won’t have enough to support them so they can grow.
- Plant the divisions separately in their own areas of the garden.
How To Propagate Lady Slippers From Cuttings
You can also plant cuttings from your Lady Slippers. However, you always have to ensure that you prepare the cuttings before directly planting them into the soil, as this will ensure that they’re in the correct conditions to grow.
Earlier, we talked about how Lady Slipper orchids don’t grow from seed without the help of a fungus in the soil, but the good news is that once the plants have grown leaves, they’ll be able to continue to grow and thrive without needing any help from fungus. This is why you can successfully grow Lady Slippers from cuttings.
Here’s what to do.
1. Snip a Cutting From the Plant
For this, you should use sharp scissors. Make sure you cut from the succulent, light-green stems of the plant, as these are the healthiest. The cutting doesn’t have to be too long, as it can be around five inches (12.7cm) in length. It has to contain at least one node and two leaves.
2. Cut Its Node
Put the plant cutting on a table and partially slice it through its node with a razor blade (make sure it’s been sterilized to prevent the spread of bacteria). By doing this, you’ll increase the chance of the plant roots emerging from this cut, as The University of Maine reports.
3. Add Rooting Hormone
This is beneficial to encourage its growth. Although you don’t need it if you have a young cutting or if it’s from a fast-growing plant, Lady Slippers take a long time to grow, so they can benefit from rooting hormones. Dip the Lady Slipper cutting in water and then in some of the rooting hormone.
Be careful to tap off any excess hormone, as you don’t want too much on the cutting. This can prevent it from growing.
4. Plant the Cutting in a Soilless Medium
Now that you’ve used root hormone on the cutting, you need to plant the cutting in a soilless medium, like potting mix.
Use a pointy object like a screwdriver or pencil to make a hole in the potting mix. It should be a bit bigger than the stem so that the rooting hormone won’t get wiped away when you push the cutting in the medium.
After planting the cutting, place a plastic bag over it, as this will lock in heat and humidity. Allow some space for air to enter the pot, or you will put the cutting at risk of fungus.
Put the pot in a warm area of the home so that it can receive filtered light, such as from behind sheer curtains. Avoid letting the cutting get exposed to full sunlight until it has leaves on it.
If you’re planting more than one cutting in the same pot, give them enough space. They require about 12-18 inches (30-45cm) of space from each other.
5. Plant the Lady Slippers in the Ground
Check regularly to see if the Lady Slipper cutting has started to grow roots. You can do this by gently tugging the plant. If it feels like the plant doesn’t get pulled easily, this is a good indication that the roots are growing. When this occurs, you can transplant the orchid into the ground.
Care Tips for Growing Lady Slipper Orchids From Seeds
Now that you know how to grow your Lady Slipper orchid from seed, division, or cuttings, you need to ensure that you look after it carefully as it grows. While some people might think that this orchid is difficult to look after, this isn’t necessarily true as long as you follow some important tips.
Keep Lady Slippers in Morning Sun
Although Lady Slippers want sunlight, they don’t want to be in direct light in the afternoons. Try to give the seedlings filtered light in the afternoon, as the sun can be too harsh at this time of day.
Water Them Well During the Growing Season
Keep the soil moist but not soggy. This prevents the soil from getting dry or becoming too wet. With this in mind, you should usually water your Lady Slipper once a week. Avoid watering at the center of the plant to prevent root rot. Moreover, as mentioned, in instances of regular rainfall, you can go several weeks without having to water the plant.
Don’t Plant Lady Slippers Near Bushes and Trees
You should avoid planting Lady Slippers too close to trees or bushes, as these have roots that can compete with the roots of your flowering plants. This is a great rule to follow when planting all types of orchids (and plants in general) if you want to make sure that your greenery gets all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Give Lady Slippers the Correct Temperature and Humidity
Lady Slippers prefer to be planted in temperatures between 60 and 80° F (15.5-26.6°C). They also require a high humidity of about 60%.
Different plant varieties thrive in different growing temperatures, though.
“Cool temperature varieties” have green leaves and like growing temperatures of 50-77°F (10-25°C). In winter, their minimum temperature should be between 50 and 55°F (10-13°C). Mottled-leaf varieties are “warm growers” that need a minimum night temperature of 65°F (18°C) and a daytime temperature of 68-86°F (20-30°C).
For indoor plants, increase humidity with a pebbly tray. This type of tray contains pebbles and water. Placing the orchid’s pot on top of it will serve to increase the amount of humidity the plant gets.
You can also increase humidity by grouping Lady Slippers together. In the wild, Lady Slipper orchids grow well when they are close to other plants. This increases their humidity. Therefore, plant them in groups indoors for the best results.
Choose the Right Pot for Indoor Orchids
Orchids should be grown in terra cotta pots because they offer excellent air circulation. There are also specialized orchid pots that have drainage slits around the sides to encourage greater air circulation.
If you own a Lady Slipper orchid, you might want to replicate its beauty by planting more of it in your garden. Although you can grow this plant from seeds, the process isn’t always successful because the plant requires a fungus in the soil in order to grow.
Luckily, there are some easier ways to grow Lady Slippers from your original plant; these include dividing it and planting cuttings from it.